Being Mindful of Equity
Amplify the potential of all students
Designing Conversational Assessment with Equity in Mind
The design of any assessment should be done with concern for equity and fairness. Utilizing natural language algorithms has some potential benefits as well as possible pitfalls. One potential advantage is the ability of natural language processing to cross easily into other languages. Google's Dialogflow is available in over thirty languages and dialogs, with other platforms supporting many languages as well. Additionally, the strength of using artificial intelligence is that it can be trained to recognize slang, misspellings, unique speech patterns, colloquial language and more. If trained and designed well, students should be able to converse with the chatbot in their own natural way and the agent will recognize their speech just as well as any other student. I've included below some general concerns for equity in both technology and science education domains.
A Plan for Technology Equity
Computers, phones, tablets, and other technology pieces have the potential to be democratizing forces in the lives of students, but there are hurdles that prevent pragmatic realization of that ideal. As a classroom teacher, I’ve focused on making sure that I integrate technology seamlessly and teach kids how to use computers at a high level so that they can take those skills with them out into the rest of their lives. As a technology director, I work to ensure that all kids have equal access and that lack of experience or socioeconomic factors don't serve to impede a student's ability to use technology for learning. To that end, I've conducted several professional development sessions in which I model the technology use from a teacher perspective, and teachers are asked to learn as their students learn. They become students in a Canvas and are asked to complete and submit assignments as students do. This simple activity has greatly enhanced our usage of Canvas, and it also allows teachers to gain confidence and experience they need to provide scaffolding for their students with technology.
Dr. Raible's course asked us to create a plan for equity within our own position or sphere of influence. Mine is included in the powerpoint below. Some of the most important parts of my job are ensuring access to technology for every student. All of the students in our school have access to a device, with grades 7-12 being allowed to take the devices home. The wealth of information available on the internet has to be within reach of all students. I am now working on an initiative to make sure that students have internet access in their homes. Those who have had less exposure to technology prior to coming to school sometimes have a more difficult time navigating required activities in school. Teacher training and awareness is an important piece of that puzzle.
Concerns for Science in a Pluralistic Society
Science does not often deal most directly with cultural curriculum elements, as do history and language arts classes, and thus it may be easier to create an environment that is inclusive, relevant and exciting to all students. Content area teachers are sometimes asked to incorporate multicultural elements into curriculum, and for some it is difficult to avoid a sort of “add and stir” method when seeking out non-white examples of scientific achievement. Efforts to pull in culturally relevant examples need to be very organic and not contrived. There is plenty of good source material to draw from.
The potential exists for science teaching to be a flexible system, widely applicable to kids from a variety of backgrounds. Science can exist within a space of critical pedagogy, in which students solve problems and push against systemic issues relevant to their world and environment. (Barton, 2001) Movement in science standards and assessment seems to be trending toward alternatives well beyond the standardized test and that can only be a good thing.
The Institute for Science + Math at the University of Washington has published a remarkable series of briefs about STEM education and new science standards. In each of their briefs, they include a section entitled "Attending to Equity." These bullet-point tips contain a gold-mine of strategies for teachers to ensure that their classroom is a safe, mindful space for all students. In the brief shown at right, teachers are encouraged to promote the communication of all students and be mindful in allowing students to use their home-discourse practices in the classroom. This ensures that students are allowed the opportunity to communicate in the way that is most effective and comfortable for them. (Bacolor, Cook-Endres, Clark, & Allen, 2014)